Rudolf Ernst, born in Vienna, was the son of the respected architectural painter Leopold Ernst. In 1869, Ernst attended the renowned Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna before travelling to and exhibiting in Munich and then later in Italy. In 1876, Ernst decided to settle permanently in Paris, taking French nationality. Once in Paris, the artist continued to exhibit regularly in the Salon des Artistes Français over the following decades.
Heavily influenced by the academic style of Jean-Léon Gêrome, Ernst abandoned his traditional genre subject matter in 1884 in favor of the more exotic imagery and iconography of the East. As was in vogue at the time, Ernst undertook repeated expeditions to the Orient, often accompanied by his friend and fellow painter Ludwig Deutsch. The experience of the East was one of constant variety and surprise, providing a plethora of imagery and fascinations for the peintres-voyageur.
One of the artist's more favored subjects was that of the hunt which, to Ernst, likely represented the archetypal conflict between man and beast. It was a subject that both fascinated him and was well received by the patrons of the day. Return from the Tiger Hunt depicts five hunters returning to camp with the captured animal. Four men cautiously hold the captured tiger with strong chains of thick metal, ever aware of the danger to themselves should the tiger become free. The proud beast, although clearly controlled, marches defiantly, with head held high and eyes straight ahead. Captured, but not yet defeated. The fifth hunter, and likely leader of this expedition, rides high atop a mounted camel with spear in hand should the shackled animal become liberated.